Land Warfare Conference – Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

“From broomsticks to blast gauges”

Land Warfare Conference

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

31 October 2012

Our three service chiefs: VADM Raymond Griggs, Chief of Navy, LTGEN David Morrison, Chief of Army AM and Geoff Brown, Chief of Air Force.

Senior officers of the Australian Defence Force.

Representatives of other military forces.

Ladies and gentlemen.

This is an important conference.

It’s focussed on land warfare where most wars are won.

They are won by the people who fight them – and the industry back at home that support them – the people in this room.

This year is the 70th anniversary of some of the most important land battles we have ever fought – Milne Bay, El Alamein, Kokoda, Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

All etched into our national consciousness, or at least they should be.

I am going up to Kokoda tomorrow for the 70th Anniversary this weekend of the raising of the Australian flag on that sacred bit of ground.

I am going there with eight Kokoda veterans, including a bloke named Len Griffiths.

The preparation, training and equipment men like Len received was very different to today.

We all know the stories of enlistees who were given broomsticks to train with instead of rifles. Some weren’t issued with rifles until they were about to head overseas.

When Len and his mates first arrived in Papua New Guinea, they were dressed for the desert – khaki head to toe.

They were given one shirt, one singlet, one pair of pants, one pair of underwear, half a blanket and half a towel.

Then, as now, camouflage was a matter of life and death – the Japanese had jungle greens and we had khaki.

The solution: 44 gallon drums of dye were delivered to the track.

Each man walked up to the drums, took off their only pair of clothes, dipped them in the dye and put them back on.

Many men got dermatitis from the dye – but the camouflage worked.

We have come a long way since then.

We have come a long way in just the past 13 years.

When we sent troops to East Timor in 1999 each soldier carried about $3000 worth of equipment. Today soldiers heading to Afghanistan carrying almost $30,000 worth of kit, including:

  • TBAS body armour;
  • Night vision goggles;
  • The new Australian made MultiCam uniform;
  • And a range of capabilities we can’t talk about here;

In the two years since the last Land Warfare Conference in Brisbane, we have also rolled out:

  • Ground penetrating radar trucks and mine rollers to help clear IEDs;
  • The C-RAM early warning system at Tarin Kowt;
  • The new Shadow 200 UAV;
  • New longer range machine guns;
  • New mortar systems;
  • And we have up armoured the bushmasters in theatre.

All up over a billion in extra force protection.

We have done that with the help of a lot of people here. Thank you to everyone involved in this work. There is nothing more important than the work we do to protect our soldiers.

I also want to thank the Diggerworks Team, led by Colonel Jason Blain.

They are responsible for rolling out a lot of the new equipment that protects our soldiers. Everything from TBAS to pelvic protection systems.

I know from the conversations I have with the team, the work they have done has already saved lives.

They are now trialling more new equipment – new tier two combat helmets, gunshot detection systems, individual water purification systems and blast gauges. I will talk more about those later.

They can’t do any of that work without you – it is industry that makes this happen.

It’s saved the lives of Australian soldiers and helped to achieve their mission in Afghanistan.

That mission will drawdown over the next 12 to 15 months.

But that doesn’t mean the challenges end.

There are still big challenges in front of us.

As we drawdown, we will have to bring equipment home.

This is a massive logistical exercise in its own right.

Getting it out will require hundreds of personnel to go in. A planning team has been working on the task since the start of the year.

We have around $2.8 billion worth of materiel in Afghanistan.

This includes around 1600 accommodation modules; 600 shipping containers, 350 vehicles and around 3,500 computers.

Some equipment will be flown out on C-130’s and C-17 heavy lift aircraft.

The vast majority of it will be shipped, using commercial freight arrangements.

This is all made more difficult by the fact that Afghanistan is a land locked country.

A bigger challenge is making sure we don’t make the same mistakes we made after the Vietnam War.

After Vietnam the Army was hollowed out, we lost experience and the skills and experience needed for significant deployments.

We can’t let that happen again.

That’s why despite the savings made in the budget we have made it clear there will be no reduction in personnel – in Army, Navy or Air Force.

After a long engagement in a major conflict, with drawdown in sight, it is also important that we get our strategic settings right.

That’s why we have brought the next Defence White Paper forward.

We don’t just drawdown in Afghanistan over the next 12 to 15 months.

We will also drawdown operations in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

This is a big change.

It will be the first time in 13 years that we have not had large numbers of Australian soldiers deployed overseas.

That doesn’t mean there are not big challenges ahead. There are. And now is the time to get those strategic decisions right.

Off the back of these strategic decisions there are also important capability decisions to be made.

One of the biggest is LAND 400. It is currently the third largest project in the Defence Capability Plan (DCP). The biggest capability project Army has ever embarked upon.

All up over $10 billion.

The Government will consider the first stage of Land 400 within the next 12 months.

One of the decisions we made late last year was to select the Thales Hawkei as the preferred vehicle for the development and testing under Stage 2 of the Manufactured and Supported in Australia (MSA) option under LAND 121 Phase 4.

A few months ago we also made a decision to acquire an additional 214 Bushmasters.

This will fill the gap between the end of production of the Bushmaster and the start of work on the Hawkei. It means we keep the skills we need to build the sort of armoured vehicles in Australia that have saved Australian lives in Afghanistan.

It means we avoid a valley of death – where jobs are lost and skills are destroyed and then are not available when they are needed again.

As many of you know, we have got the same problem with ship building. And we need to take the same approach.

Between the end of the third AWD and the start of the first submarine, we have a valley of death.

We have to build a bridge across this valley if we are going to have the skills we need to build the Future Submarine.

That’s why in December last year I announced the development of the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan.

In May this year I announced Mr David Mortimer AO would head up the Expert Industry Panel to develop this plan.

Their job is to help design a bridge across the valley of death.

They will present their report to me before the end of the year, and it will then feed into the development of the 2013 White Paper.

I suspect though the naval project this conference is more interested in is the introduction into service of the LHDs.

The first LHD arrived in Port Phillip Bay two weeks ago.

The LHDs are of enormous importance to Australia and our whole region.

It will require a massive effort to prepare to operate the LHD’s, and to operate from them.

It’s been a long time since Army have had the capability to conduct large scale amphibious operations, and we have never done it on this scale before.

We’ve got to learn how to use them to their full potential and working with the US Marines rotating through Darwin for six months a year will play an important role in this.

Over the past two years we’ve driven a lot of reform in procurement and sustainment.

You’re familiar with most of it. We have done a lot, but there is still a lot more to do.

Here are just two.

We are reviewing the structure of Land Systems Division.

With big decisions on projects like LAND 400 planned for the next few years, it is important that this organisation is providing the best possible advice to government – while working closely with Defence industry.

We are also going to trial an outsourced managing contractor model for some DMO projects, to improve performance and the ability to prioritise resources more efficiently.

I have talked about a number of future challenges we face and what were are doing.

The biggest and most important challenge is looking after the soldiers who fought this war for us and their families who support them.

I talk a lot about equipment. But the best equipment in the world, whether it is body armour or bushmasters, can’t protect a soldier from what they see or the effect war can have on them.

Our soldiers have seen terrible things and that can have a terrible impact when they come back home.

We need to tend to not just the physical wounds our soldiers bear but also mental and emotional wounds as well.

While the work we are doing in Afghanistan is drawing down, this work is just ramping up.

We need to make sure we have a culture inside Defence, and across the community, that encourages soldiers to come forward when they’re hurt.

Major General Cantwell’s book Exit Wounds makes an important contribution here.

We also need to better understand what our soldiers have gone through.

That’s why the blast gauges that have gone into Afghanistan are so important.

The gauges measure the impact of blasts, particularly from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They display a green, yellow or red light to indicate the level of pressure from a blast.

The data they collect will help with treatment in the field and back here at home. They will help give us a better understanding of the long-term effects of blast overpressure on the body and brain.

Defence, and Army in particular, have done a lot to help our soldiers in theatre and back here at home, and I thank them for it.

This is more important than almost anything we do.

I talked earlier about what is happening at Kokoda over the next few days – the 70th anniversary of the raising of the Australian flag.

And I mentioned Len Griffiths and his dyed khaki uniform.

Seventy years ago it was Len who organised for that Australian flag to be raised.

There was no band that day, no cheers, just a few hundred weary Australian soldiers standing to attention, in the soaking rain.

On Friday he will help raise that flag again.

Every year more and more Australians stop in the street to remember men like Len Griffiths. And so they should.

Over the next few years their stories will be at the forefront of public consciousness as we remember the 100th Anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, the battles at Villers Bretonneux, Ypres and Fromelles as well as the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan.

Honouring them is important.

The best way we can honour them is to look after the soldiers who are serving now.

That means making sure they have the right equipment and the right support backed with the right strategy.

That’s what drives me.

I know that’s what drives you – and I thank you for it.